When people ask me if this model can be replicated elsewhere, I say, yes, because the wells of love and faith will never run dry when people come together and commit to treating the stranger as God, living in gratitude, and to loving without judgement.
In the world of social entrepreneurism there are two basic questions: are you scalable and are you sustainable? I am so grateful that after two decades of this work, I can answer both easily, “Yes!” When we started Magdalene, the only vision we held was to keep a sanctuary open for 5 residents, at no cost to them. Now, we reach hundreds of women annually through the prison community, referrals, counseling, and legal services, as well as supporting 5 residential communities. The number of women employed by the Thistle Farms global effort in the Shared Trade network has reached more than 1,500. When Thistle Farms started, we were employing 4 women for 6 hours a week and making candles in the kitchen of St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt. Now, we employ more than 50 residents and graduates in our 11,000 square foot facility, as well as operate a Cafe, sell in more than 500 retail outlets, and bring in over 2 million in revenue annually.
Given that we are now the largest survivor-led social enterprise in the country, I can say in gratitude the community’s vision grew exponentially in proportion to how much we desired to love women, who have graced the doors and joined in the movement over the years. Given the exponential ripple effect of love, it's not hard to understand how we accomplish this rate of growth year after year. Our goal has been to be transparent in fundraising, remembering that all of us have been in the ditch, giving from a place of gratitude, being willing to take a leap of faith when called upon, learning to follow the lead when a new idea is good, and the earnest belief that love is the most powerful force for social change. So, when people ask me if this model can be replicated elsewhere, I say, yes, because the wells of love and faith will never run dry when people come together and commit to treating the stranger as God, living in gratitude, and to loving without judgement.
Together, anything is possible. The more success we have, the more resources we draw in, the more women we are able to help. Last year, Thistle Farms put more than $850,000 back into the hands of residents and graduates of the Magdalene program, who are turning their pain into purpose. There are now over 30 sister programs in different cities in the United States that will expand the model and potential for growth even faster. As our vision for this work expands in direct proportion to the healing power of more than 150 graduates of the residential program, I say we are just beginning to see the power of this work.
Photo courtesy of Taro Yamasaki